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Massively goes to WAR: Jeff Hickman's view of Warhammer Online

Michael Zenke

Thursday morning we sat down with Jeff Hickman, EA Mythic's senior producer for Warhammer Online, to clarify what we'd be experiencing over the two days of our visit. Mr. Hickman was kind enough to talk through the outline of our schedule, and was very willing to touch base on a few of the topics we'd be covering. Jeff is a passionate speaker, and you get a real sense listening to him that he really deeply cares about the product that he's working on.

Beyond the outline of the day's activities, we got him to wax extemporaneous about topics like Public Quests, Living Guilds, and the inevitable comparisons between Warhammer and World of Warcraft. Jeff's enthusiasm for the game was contageous, and it was hard not to be enthused just listening to him speak. Read on for a hint of what we've got in store, as well as word from 'on high' what makes WAR so great.

When we sat down with him, "The Hickman" had just returned from another marketing blitz from New York City. Prior to that they were in Paris, Singapore, Munich ... the list goes on. Through the summer he expects to be out of the office with Creative Director Paul Barnett and Associate Producer Josh Drescher three weeks out of every month.

Mr. Hickman explained that the people we'd be talking to over the course of the day are all of the "strike team leads", the 'owners' of many of the pieces of the Warhammer pie. Jeff considers himself very lucky to have people with such strong leadership skills in position throughout the game. His job is to understand what the game as a whole needs. The way he put it was, "Does reality meet what the design is?" In turn, he empowers the strike team leads to carry out the game's plan.

We were slated for a lengthy play experience later in the day, and Mr. Hickman noted that generally speaking they have to direct guests to just one area of the game. This newest Beta phase, begun just yesterday, is the first where they've had multiple starter zones available. Last week saw the beginning of a focused test on the first 20 levels of the Greenskin experience. Now, both the Orc/Dwarf and High Elf/Dark Elf areas are available for players. They also invited a "buttload" more people into the game to see how the server would hold up under load.

"The Hickman" seemed especially pleased at where they are conceptually in the testing phase right now. "All of the planning we did two to three years ago is finally coming to fruition. We can point to things as they're happening now and say 'that actually worked!'"

Jeff was also very excited to have us playing the game's signature RvR elements. Though he noted that you can choose not to participate in that element of the game, that's going to be a big choice. Playing with a mix of RvR, PvE, and crafting is going to be the most naturalistic way to experience the Warhammer world. Even those who choose not to participate are going to see the signs of the conflict around them; in one area there's a bridge between two PvE zones that passes over an RvR area - players will be able to see the war ongoing below their feet.

He also noted that Public Quests would play an important element in our demo. Said Hickman, "I truly feel that Public Quests are absolutely revolutionary in the industry. Again, a hard thing to show because ... it's not that they're hard to get into, but they feel best as you progress through the game. As you're doing your quests and unlocking your tome, doing some crafting, doing your thing ... then boom you step into your first Public Quest and it's like "oh!". You know how to play your character, you understand how that quest fits in the world. There are over 300 in the world, they are truly everywhere, and the players just love them. The way that we put them together, the way we put the loot system together, the feedback on them is just phenomenal. We're really proud of them."

He went on, "Some of them are bigger and cooler than others, some are smaller and more intimate, but they're all really interesting. The whole concept of 'I walk into the area and it's a mini-raid' is great. You're having fun, it doesn't require coordination. As you gather more people it becomes easier to do, you can do some if it alone, and if you have a bunch of people you can just overrrun it. Even that's not bad, though, because you get that feeling that you've just destroyed your enemies. And then it resets and you can do it over again. It's this great feeling of a little competition, a little sharing, and it's ... participation."

The Tome of Knowledge would be part of our day's activities as well; it's mostly complete, but some elements are still under construction. The "Old World Armory" is the items section of the Tome, and is one of the still-in-development pieces. There are collections of numerous items, both looted and crafted in there. That component aside, Mr. Hickman sees the Tome as "launch-ready".

Living Guilds would also play a component in our day's activities. Jeff is especially impressed by the "standard" system. Essentially every guild earns the right to have heraldry and create a standard, which can be carried into battle. The guild's heraldry is worn by guild members on cloaks, and shows up on the tabards of NPC guards in a captured keep. Standards provide rallying points for all players of a given side (not just in the guild), offering buffs and tactics to everyone involved. The standards will probably see the most use in RvR scenarios, but they're crucial to capturing a keep and can even be used (in a limited fashion) in PvE encounters. Standards haven't been out to Beta testing yet, but should be available to players within a week.

We concluded our time by discussing an issue that seems to come up regularly in conversations about the game: the comparisons to Blizzard's monolithic World of Warcraft. Said Mr. Hickman, "We don't try to avoid the comparison in general. You'll hear things people say like 'Warhammer came before WoW' and stuff, and that's whatever. True, not true, it doesn't matter here. We have a look that is the look mandating by the IP. It is the look of Warhammer, there's no getting around that. So we never tried, nor will we try, nor could we try to change that look. It is what it is, it is Warhammer."

He continued, "How do we get around the comparison? Just like I've done with you here, we talk about the things that set us apart. It's really easy to look at any MMO, really, and say 'oh, that's just like that game', or 'that's just like that game', 'oh, they have elves'. What's important is the stuff that makes us unique. That's what I talk about when I'm on the road. He have all the stuff you'd expect in an MMO. It's a comfort thing, to make you as an MMO player feel at home. With that out of the way, we start to talk about what makes us cool. Let's talk about RvR. Nobody does it like we do. And people say 'well, they do PvP this way too', and I have to break out and say no! They don't have scenarios like we do, or keep sieges, or capital city battles, or all these things."

Hickman concluded, "I can't not play this game because it's just that cool. That's why I'm so passionate about this game, because I know it's not hype. I know that all of these things really exist in our game and really are that cool. I feel really confident, I don't feel like I'm a used-care salesman, I know I'm prostylitizing a good product."

With thanks to the producer for his time, we were off to our first hands-on experience with Warhammer Online: Age of Reckoning.

Warhammer Online Coverage Did you enjoy this? Make sure to check out all of our previous Warhammer Online coverage, and don't miss any of the rest of the articles in this series as Massively goes to WAR!

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